Posted by Karmel Melamed
During my visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Musuem in Jerusalem on July 28, 2010, I met Jackie Handaly, one of the few Sephardic survivors of the Holocaust who miraculously survived the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz and other concentration camps during World War II. Handaly was one of the 50,000 Jews living in the Greek port city of Salonica and in his early teens when the Nazis deporting him and his family to Auschwitz to be murdered. His parents and siblings were exterminated at the death camp but due to miracles he ended up working in the camp’s kitchen which allowed him to survive. Toward the end of the war, he was involved in the death marches out of Auschwitz and sent to other Nazi death camps which he again managed to survive.
At the end of the war a little less than 2,000 Greek Jews from Salonica survived the genocide with the majority of the population being completely obliterated by the Nazis. Handaly said that Greek Jews perished and suffered tremendously because unlike their Ashkenazi brethren in the death camps, they could not understand the German guards speaking to them nor could they endure the tremendous frozen temperatures of eastern Europe.
The following are three different videos from Handaly’s story I captured during his re-telling of his experience at the hands of the Nazis…
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1.28.08 at 9:30 pm | (95)
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July 28, 2010 | 3:40 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Yesterday the Los Angeles participants of the Sephardic Educational Center’s summer seminar in Jerusalem heard lectures from two prominent Israeli journalists Jonah Mandel and Yossi Klein Halevi about different aspects of Sephardic life in Israel today.
Mandel, who has been covering the contentious Emmanuel affair during the last three years for the Jerusalem Post. He spoke about how religious Sephardic Jews viewed the case that involves religious Sephardic Jewish children from the “Slonim” sect in the small and poor Israeli city of Emmanuel who were allegedly victims of racial discrimination by religious Ashkenazi faculty members of their “Bet Yacov” school. I caught up with Mandel afterwards and he shed light on the status of religious Sephardic Jews in Israel in this interview…
Later in the evening, we were joined by Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi who revealed the tremendous impact Sephardic music and culture has had on Israeli rock n’ roll since it’s birth in 1967. Halevi “rocked” out with by playing various Sephardic influenced Israeli rock n’ roll songs for our group. This is video footage I captured of Halevi discussing the impact of Iranian-Israeli rock singer Meir Banai on contemporary Israeli rock music and his most recent hit song “Lecha Eli” which is originally a religious song typically sung during Yom Kippur…
July 26, 2010 | 11:00 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
This week I have the unique opportunity of joining nearly two dozen of L.A.‘s Jewish residents who traveled to the Old City of Jerusalem at the Sephardic Educational Center (S.E.C.) and blogging about their 2010 summer seminar exploring the future of Sephardic Judaism in the 21st century. The program was organized by the S.E.C.‘s new director of new projects Rabbi Daniel Bouskila who has brought together some of Israel’s foremost authorities on various aspects of Sephardic life. The S.E.C.‘s brainchild and founder, L.A. native, Dr. Jose Nessim and his family were also on hand to welcome participants of the program.
Here is some footage I captured last night of Dr. Nessim talking about his vision for the S.E.C. becoming a reality….
This is more footage I captured of Rabbi Bouskila discussing the S.E.C.’s objectives in going online to share more details about this week’s summer seminar on Sephardic Judaism for the 21st century on the web through blogging….
More videos to continue as the week progresses!
July 23, 2010 | 8:38 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
On July 31, 1980 my relative Ebrahim “Ebi” Berookhim was the third Jew to be officially executed by the newly formed radical Islamic regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. He was an innocent successful 30-year-old Jewish man with no political affiliations nor did he have interactions with those involved with the former regime of the Shah of Iran. Nevertheless his killers in the infamous Evin prison accused him of spying for the U.S. and Israel just to confiscate his family’s fortune and their five-star hotel in the heart of Tehran.
Ebi’s killing prompted my family to flee Iran after my father risked his own life to retrieve Ebi’s body and give him a kosher burial in Tehran’s Jewish cemetery. With the anniversary of Ebi’s execution coming up this week month, my parents, my relatives and his friends finally opened up to be about this tragedy that completely transformed our lives. The following are just some of excerpts of my conversations with Ebi’s loved ones…
“Ebi returned to Iran in the mid-1970s after he finished his college education in Denver. He served in the Iranian military for a few years as was required for all male citizens of the country. Now Jews typically did not serve in the military but Ebi did complete his military service because he wanted to get it out of the way. In 1979 Ebi was in the army and the revolution erupted. I believe it was the beginning of 1979 when one day I came to the hotel and the revolutionaries had taken over the hotel. When I asked the people there where Ebi was, they said he was blindfolded and taken away. This was where his problems had begun. No one else from our family was in Iran at that time. I finally found Ebi in the Khasr prison and they officials said we’ve got your brother on charges of espionage, being a Zionist and allowing El Al pilots to stay at your hotel.
After he was in prison for two months we got him released after we paid the officials bribes to get Ebi out. When Ebi was released from prison, we tried to resume our normal lives. Ebi did not go back to the hotel and he lived in my home for two or three months. My father then came back to Iran after Ebi was released from prison. My father thought that he could regain his hotel because he was not political and had not do anything wrong. At least once a week, my sister, my father, myself and my father went to Evin prison and allowed the authorities to question us because they said they would return our hotel to us if we answered their questions. We were not afraid. Every night when we returned from the questioning at the prison, I would beg him (Ebi) to leave Iran and go to America for a vacation and he kept putting it off and telling me ‘I’ll go tomorrow morning, I’ll go tomorrow morning’.
One morning when they had asked us all to go prison, Ebi came to me and said let’s go and I told him listen to me…don’t go there, that place is not the place for you to be and he said no. I forced me to go. When we got there, I stopped the car to let Ebi and my father out first and then park. He told me to park the car and then come in after us. I only went to protect them. When I came inside the prison office, I saw that Ebi and my father were not seated where they needed to be seated. When I asked the officials where they were, they said both of them had been taken away. I went chasing after them inside the other rooms and they grabbed me and in the process tore off the sleeve of my coat. They said; ‘we’ve got your father and brother and where holding them to protect them’. Whatever I did to get them and bring them out, I was unable to do so”.
- Shaheen Makhani, Ebi’s sister
“He (Ebi) was a year and half younger than me. We were very close, our names were very similar. People in our family used to me ‘Abe the bigger one’ because I was older and called him ‘Abe the smaller’ one. He had a great heart and everyone loved him because he was always thinking about others first before himself.
My grandfather didn’t expect such a revolution in Iran, he thought it was temporary and didn’t expect confiscation or execution. He believed in his love of Iran. He believed that even thought he was a Jew, he would be treated like another citizen of Iran and unfortunately the revolution in Iran proved otherwise.
I talked to Ebi when I escape from Iran and went to Germany. I told him ‘Ebi please please escape from Iran’. He said ‘don’t worry everything is o.k. and everything will be fine. He believed in himself and he was optimistic. If was a little more pessimistic about the situation, he would still be alive. Ebi only crime was that he was a Jew and that he was wealthy”.
- Abraham Berookhim, Ebi’s nephew
“I was in my office around 7:30 in the morning and I heard the news from another fellow that was working in my office that on the radio they had announced that they had executed Ebi and 21 pilots the night before whom they thought would bomb Khomeini’s palace. Then myself and two others from the Jewish community— one of whom had a contact in the prison morgue, decided to go to the prison morgue to get Ebi’s body. Later on we found out that his body was transferred to the city morgue, so we went there to get his body. We paid the money he demanded and were given the body.
I don’t remember how Ebi’s body was brought to the cemetery but I was there when it arrived. They shot him at point blank range. The bullet went through his heart and you could tell he was shot at point blank range because the opening was a half an inch in diameter on the front and the hole on his backside was two or three inches wide. He was clean shaven and clean— I later learned from one his prison mates that the guards had woke Ebi up at 3 am and told him to shave and shower because he was going to be released.
The gentleman who was in charge of the Jewish cemetery warned us not get excited or use bad words during the burial because there would be people there from the government taking notes and photographs of those in attending the funeral. Since they killed an innocent man, I was extremely disappointed and didn’t want to stay in that country. After those days I decided that Iran was not the place for us because this was an innocent man who had nothing to do with politics and was randomly killed for nothing”.
- George, my father
“I met Ebrahim Berookhim in the Khasr prison when the regime’s thugs had arrested me and imprisoned me on charges of spying for America and Israel. I was imprisoned there for four months. After a few days of arriving at the prison, I was placed in a private cell which I later learned was kept separate for Jews who were eventually going to be executed. A few days later the cell door opened a weeping and nearly white faced Ebrahim Berookhim was thrown inside with the rest of us prisoners. He explained to me that he had tried to get a lawyer who would help his family keep their hotel and that he was arrested by the regime in order for them to frighten his family into giving up their hotel.
One day by a miracle of god, we were both released from prison and I quickly fled the country while he remained behind. Later on they re-arrested Ebrahim and I learned that the same people came looking for me but I had fled the country at that time. I later learned from one of the guards in that prison who I met in the U.S. said that he saw first hand that Ayatollah Khalkhali had personally ordered Ebrahim’s execution. Unfortunately at that time after the revolution, there were no real laws and it was easy for those in power in the regime at that time to do whatever they wanted in the name of Islam.
I was in the U.S. when I heard he was execution. I was shocked at the news and I was guilt ridden and angry with myself for not doing more to convince Ebrahim to flee Iran with me after we were both released from prison together”.
- Behrooz Meimand, Ebi’s Jewish prison mate
“I received a telephone call from one of my relatives that they had executed Ebi Berookhim. Your father stepped forward to get his body because none of Ebi’s brothers or the elders from his family were in Iran except for Ebi’s sister and his brother-in-law. Your father didn’t tell anyone that went to get his body. He knew that his life was at risk because at that time if you went to get someone’s body who was executed, then they (prison authorities) would ask you what relations do you have with this executed person and then throw you in jail. Also the regime considered those who were executed as infidels and wanted to bury them all in mass unmarked graves. For every Jew that the regime killed, the different levels of people from the Jewish community fled the country. After the regime killed Ebrahim Berookhim, everyone that was educated and those who thought they would not be touched by the regime since they were not political, were suddenly caught in a passive storm and knew that they had to flee Iran quickly. This is because they realized that just as Berookhim was randomly been accused of being an Israeli spy, so could anyone of them be easily accused of being a spy and then executed. Now proving you are not a spy is an ordeal and problem in itself”.
- Roset, my mother
July 14, 2010 | 10:13 am
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Nearly four years ago the life of Dina Kadisha, a young Iranian Jewish filmmaker, was completely transformed when she journeyed to Ethiopia with the New York-based American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and its volunteers on a humanitarian aid mission to help the country’s remaining Jewish population. “In addition to the extensive relief work I witnessed, I had an opportunity to be a part of an extraordinary rescue mission- evacuating the Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews) to safety in Israel,” said Kadisha who is in her 20’s and resides in Los Angeles. The amazing impact of giving back to Jews and non-Jews worldwide through the JDC not only prompted Kadisha to volunteer on other humanitarian missions but to also produce a short film called “Operation Promise: Exodus from Ethiopia” chronicling the tireless efforts of the JDC on behalf of Ethiopia’s Jews.
After its inception nearly a century ago, the JDC has been at the forefront of providing immediate humanitarian support to Jews in need worldwide and also to non-Jews suffering due to a natural disaster or other calamity. At the same time today the JDC has been fortunate enough to recruit a new generation of visionary young Jews such as Kadisha who are interested in leading international Jewish humanitarian aid efforts. In fact, the creative energy that helped launch the JDC’s newly establish Los Angeles Chapter came from both Kadisha and Jennifer Yadidi, another remarkable young Iranian Jewish community activist. (On a side note, for years I have been a big fan of Jennifer’s non-profit work on behalf of L.A.’s homeless).
Last month at an evening event held inside “Plush”, a trendy Beverly Hills nightclub, these two young ladies first introduced more than 60 of L.A.’s hip and successful young Jewish professionals to the scope of the JDC’s international relief work. I was fortunate enough to join the party which combined great music, a fun mingling atmosphere with the goal to encourage Jewish professionals in their 20’s and 30’s to get involved with the JDC. The evening was a smashing success and has since caused a great “buzz” in the local community. “The feedback we had from our event has been overwhelming,” said Kadisha. “Young Jewish professionals in Los Angeles have been very excited and eager to get involved with the JDC and their humanitarian work”. These two young Jewish professionals have not only energized other young professionals to give financially to the JDC, but more importantly to volunteer their time and travel overseas in physically helping individuals in serious need.
The apple certainly does not fall far from the tree for Kadisha and I’m certainly not surprised to see her involved and successful in supporting an amazing non-profit like the JDC. Her own family and her maternal family (the Nazarians) have for several decades been heavily involved in launching and supporting a wide range of philanthropic Jewish and Israel related causes. “I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by great role models in my family who have been involved in philanthropy and influenced me to give back—so it was very appealing to me to get involved the JDC”, Kadisha told me in a recent interview. Historically speaking, the majority of Jews living in Iran, two or three generations ago were living in extreme poverty in their ghettos. So it is all the more remarkable when today their successful descendants living in the U.S. are giving back to other Jews around the world who are poverty-stricken.
Whether the JDC has been providing aid to earthquake victims in Haiti earlier this year or to Jews living in the former Soviet Republics, the organization has had a major impact in coming to the rescue for thousands who were in need. “Every Jew anywhere in the world is a stakeholder of the JDC,” said Kadisha. “Many Jews don’t even know that their parents or grandparents across the world were beneficiaries of the JDC during the last 100 years”. In the end, I tip my hat to the JDC for having the vision to welcome Dina Kadisha and Jennifer Yadidi on board with their organization. Moreover it is young Jewish professionals such as as Kadisha and Yadidi that today make me very proud to be an Iranian American Jew living in Southern California. Thank you ladies!